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3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Yawn. Fast Forward. Oh wait, look at that! Huh? Wha? Yawn., 24 August 2005

Roger Ebert's infamous trashing of (then odd reversal and completely unwarranted praise for) this movie aside, any follow-up to Buffalo '66 deserves watching. And while the artsy crowd may enjoy just that: watching -- watching as the main character, Clay (Gallo), drives cross-country, aimlessly and endlessly for what seems like an eternity, there's just not enough substance to The Brown Bunny to make for anything other than a self-indulgent exercise from a once promising director. Sure, the shock value in the last minutes is, well, shocking, but is it enough to justify our suffering along with the main character through the rest of the film? Do yourself a favor: if curious to find out what all the fuss is about, fast forward your DVD on screen (8x setting should be fine) for roughly the first hour and ten minutes. Stop every once in a while to feel artsy and appreciate the ennui. Net result: you watch the movie in about one quarter the time. Trust me. You won't miss anything. As for the end? Well, let's just say Gallo, who wrote, produced, directed and stars, gets the most out of his leading lady. The ending will affect you. No doubt about that. But what effect it has? I guess that's what "art" is all about.

Many-Monstered Movie Misses Mark, 10 May 2004

An homage to the classic Universal monsters of the 1930s and 40s, the opening ten minutes of Van Helsing - filmed in glorious black and white, and full of torch-toting villagers - are oddly reminiscent of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein. Both films play into a set of pop-culture expectations that we have of our beloved movie monsters; both recall a time in Hollywood where any combination of them - Dracula, Frankstein's monster, and/or the Wolf Man - was a sure way to put keisters in the seats. And where Brooks turned so adeptly to comedy with his homage, writer-director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) here resurrects his particular forte: action and adventure. Indeed, once Van Helsing switches over to color, this special-effects laden juggernaut never lets up. And its many-monstered minutes - over 200 of them (minutes, that is [though there are seemingly just as many monsters]) - are a spectacle to behold.

Still, spectacle wears thin with a plot this threadbare. Seems Dracula is looking to use the Frankenstein monster to give life to an army of the undead, and (partial spolier) only the secret of the curse of the werewolf can stop him. Is it fun? Sure. In the title role, an athletic Hugh Jackman (X-Men) seems to be having a blast, and his equally agile co-star, Kate Beckinsale, appears much more comfortable fighting vampires than being one (as she did in the somewhat over serious and less entertaining Underworld). Perhaps what's missing here is something Lugosi, Karloff, and even Lon Chaney Jr. brought to the screen over half a century ago that the age of CGI often overshadows: that atmosphere and exposition are still important, especially when dealing with cinematic icons.

Hellboy (2004)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
One heck of a flick, 4 April 2004

Based upon the Dark Horse comic by Mike Mignola, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Blade II, Cronos), and starring Ron Perlman (Beauty and the Beast), Hellboy is one heck of a movie.

The oddest of heroes - a reluctant demon who, despite a stone hand, is all heart - Hellboy fights monsters and resurrected Nazis as part of a covert operation for the US government. Sound silly? It is, and that's its charm. Under del Toro's capable direction, the action is swift, the monsters are scary, and the atmosphere is otherworldly. But it is character that drives Hellboy's plot. Much of the credit goes to the actors behind the masks. Ron Perlman delivers humor and humanity to a part that easily could have been little more than camp. And even supporting players, like the amphibian psychic Abe Sapien (voiced with aplomb by Frasier's David Hyde Pierce) are fully fleshed.

Highly original and immensely entertaining, Hellboy sets a new standard for comic-book adaptations.

Big Fish (2003)
Truth in Fiction, 18 January 2004

A culmination of sorts for director Tim Burton's career-long obsession with refashioning the fairy tale for modern, movie-going audiences, Big Fish is a delight. And like the quintessential tall tale of the big fish that got away, the real life of main character Edward Bloom is ultimately less important than the stories he tells.

Part fact, part fiction - perhaps not always truthful, but ultimately full of truth - Bloom's stories loosely tie Big Fish together. The basics - growing up, getting married, having a baby - are made magical and arguably, more meaningful here as Bloom (Albert Finney at his most likable) tells them. But his son, Will (Billy Crudup) feels distanced, cheated even, by his ailing Father's unwillingness to give the family the facts, and not the fantasy, of his life. And where there's fantasy, there's Burton at his best: a witch, a giant, a werewolf and even a Siamese chanteuse. All are misunderstood creatures who want nothing more than a sympathetic ear, and a life that matters. In this respect, the odd assortment of characters that populate Big Fish are no different, yet perhaps more fully formed, than Burton's Edward Scissorhands or even Ed Wood.

But the real magic of Big Fish is, oddly enough, the goofy enthusiasm of Ewan McGregor as the young Edward Bloom. Embarking on each successive adventure with pie-eyed optimism and a sense of wonder beyond all sense and reason, McGregor adds much needed humor and a jolt of vigor to a picture that could have easily tipped the scales too heavily in the direction of absurdity or treacle. In that same vein, watch for Steve Buscemi as poet/thief/tycoon Norther Winslow - hilarious, and a nice balance to a film that is otherwise Burton's heaviest and most profound.

If Big Fish can be faulted (and it can), it is for the heavy-handedness of many of its themes. Still, Burton's tale of fathers and sons and the stories each tell to make sense of their lives is an ambitious work. It's Burton's best, and quite an achievement.

Old School (2003)
63 out of 80 people found the following review useful:
A Welcome return to Reckless Abandon, 9 February 2003

Caught a preview showing last night, and I'm a little surprised myself to report that the aptly named Old School is actually a welcome return to a formula all but abandoned by Hollywood for much of the past couple of decades - that of the unapologetic, raucous, cheap laughs for cheap-laughs sake, male-bonding fraternity picture. It is Animal House. It is Porky's. It is every cliche one comes to expect from such a picture - from wild frat house parties to girls wrestling in KY jelly. And, strangely enough, it delivers... with a good cast and a fresh twist. For the group of guys that assemble to start the fraternity that is the heart of Old School are all in their early to mid thirties. They are family men. They are husbands. They are fathers. They are boyfriends involved in serious relationships. They have all grown up.

Or so thought Mitch Martin (Luke Wilson), the "Godfather" of this return to the dorm comedy. When Mitch returns from a business trip to find that his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) has been hiding from him a rather unnerving secret sex life, the guy begins to question the choices he's made in his life. And his friends are there to help. Best friend and self-made successful businessman Beanie (played with perfect comic timing by Vince Vaughn) suggests they take advantage of Mitch's new found freedom and start a fraternity. And it isn't long before every disillusioned and disenfranchised thirtysomething wants to join - to either recreate their days of reckless youth, or finally belong after years of being an outsider.

Among such misanthropes is Frank the Tank, a character that Will Ferrell makes his own. Literally baring all for the camera, Ferrell, like Saturday night live alum John Belushi before him, plays the wild but affable frat brother - the sad clown, the loveable loser. Ferrell gets all the best lines, but a few are reserved for the sardonic Vaughn. Wilson, to his credit, plays it straight, and the supporting cast (including Leah Remini, Artie Lange, and even the usually annoying Andy Disk in a hilarious cameo) is quite good.

Certainly, Old School is not Oscar material. It's not meant to be. And it makes no pretension to comedy of the kind that My Big Fat Greek wedding brought back into vogue. This is not a feel-good romantic comedy. But it is also not to be dismissed as some insipid throwaway college romp. Old School is intentionally sophomoric (all the more so, as it is director Todd Phillips' second big studio comedy). It is genuinely funny in parts, and a healthy hour and a half return to those days of reckless abandon that many of us dreamt we either had back - or had had in the first place.

Spider-Man (2002)
Awesome responsibility handled with great power, 4 May 2002

"With great power comes great responsibility." Every Spider-Man fan knows well Ben Parker's words of wisdom to his nephew Peter; they are the very motivation that drives the gawky teen to become the superhero Spider-Man (and here you thought it was a radioactive spider!).

Well, apparently, director Sam Raimi and his crew also heeded Ben Parker's words. Good thing for us moviegoers that they did, as the awesome responsibility of bringing this American pop culture icon to the big screen is here handled, fortunately, with great power.

Sure, the spectacular CGI action sequences are sometimes a bit plastic - just like Tobey Maguire's too frequent tears and oft ill-timed delivery - but Spider-Man is nonetheless (excuse the pun) a marvel. The story is faithful in spirit to Stan Lee's and Steve Ditko's vision (the naysayers out there really need to get out more); the fight scenes are truly amazing; and excellent supporting performances are given by a menacing Willem Defoe as the main heavy (Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin), and a hilarious J.K. Simmons (yes, Law & Order fans, that's Dr. Skoda!) as Daily Bugle Editor J. Jonah Jameson. Seriously, Skoda, I mean Simmons steals the show!

If the film can be faulted, it is in the overwrought soap-operatic love triangle that exists among Peter/Spidey, the love of his life, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), and his best friend/roommate Harry Osborn (James Franco). Yes, this conflict is taken, for the most part, straight from the comics, but what took years to develop in print appears forced and subsequently rushed when compressed into the confined space of a single film. Unlike Brian Singer's brilliant (and superior) X-Men from two-years ago, Spider-Man fails to develop its characters' conflicts very well. When we do get glimpses into Peter's sense of guilt, Mary Jane's self-esteem issues or Harry's love/hate relationship with his father, the attempts at pathos are a little silly.

For any filmmaker, it's a tremendous responsibility to have to compress that kind of character history into what is supposed to be an action movie; if Spider-Man ultimately falls somewhat short, it's not for lack of trying. Then again, this ain't Shakespeare, and poor Peter Parker's life should, perhaps, be presented as a soap opera - with emotions heightened just like those of any teenager. Maybe the conflicts are genuine enough, when judged through the bug-eyed lenses worn by a nerdy boy becoming a man.

Perhaps that's what has made Spider-Man an icon for so many years to so many generations of kids and kids at heart; it's the story of an awkward teenager finding in himself not only the spider, but the man.

Maybe it's something as simple as this: Spider-Man appeals to that part of us that wants to be a hero, but feels like a nerd, an outsider. We can never be Superman (the guy's an alien), and Batman is pretty much out of the average man's reach (who has the cash?). But Spider-Man? More than the accident that made him, this hero is the product of courage and sacrifice. That could be me. That could be you. We identify with poor Peter Parker, because we've all been him at one time or another.

Or maybe this guy's popularity is even simpler than that: you see, Spidey's just plain cool. And, for this reason alone, Spider-Man is sure to be a hit with audiences.

A Damned shame, 7 March 2002

Despite superb casting of Stuart Townsend as the Vampire Lestat and Vincent Perez as his maker, Marius, The Queen of the Damned is like a lengthy music video that assaults the senses but leaves little impact. The third book in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and the second to be filmed, Queen of the Damned steamrolls over plot lines taken from The Vampire Lestat and sacrifices its characters on the altar of superficially slick Hollywood imagery. Perhaps it's a matter of (pop)cultural delay. Whereas Rice's books were truly groundbreaking in the decades between Interview with the Vampire and the aforementioned Lestat, the angst-ridden vampires that are her stock and trade are unfortunately now a dime a dozen in mass media. At times, their collective lament, in this film at least, seems silly. Marry them with music by the undeniably talented Jonathan Davis (of Korn fame), and you have every thirteen-year-old Goth's wet dream. But beyond its attempts at art and artifice (including a rather good video homage to the silent classic Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), there's little substance to Damned. A damned shame, too, as many fine actors -- Perez, Lena Olin and even a promising Aaliyah (whose untimely death is responsible for much of the hype surrounding this movie) -- are wasted.

warning: genre-mixing can be dangerous, 19 January 2002

It sounded too good to be true: a quasi-historical supernatural thriller combining elements of monster-movie, romance and martial arts genres. Subtitled in French, nonetheless! An ambitious disaster, the overlong and often silly Brotherhood of the Wolf is an example of how a movie can lose all substance by trying way too hard to be stylish.

Loosely based on the "true" story of the Beast of Gevaudan, a late 18th century "monster" that terrorized a small French town, Brotherhood of the Wolf follows naturalist Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his Iroquois guide Mani (Mark Dacascos) as they hunt for the creature in the woods near a small provincial town. That the inhabitants of this village are more outrageous than the monster should not surprise you (this is, after all, a French film). There's Jean-Francois (Vincent Cassel), the brooding one-armed aristocrat with a thing for his sister, Marianne (Emilie Dequenne). She likes Fronsac. He fancies her as well, but spends much of the movie sleeping with Sylvia (Monica Bellucci), a soothsaying prostitute who may or may not be an agent of the Vatican.

Confused yet? With so many plot twists that you begin to lose interest, the inexplicable ability of almost every character in the film to have martial arts prowess, and perhaps the most pretentious, none-too subtle dissolve in the history of cinema (Monica Bellucci's breasts fade into the shape of snow-peaked mountains), Brotherhood of the Wolf is certainly not a boring film. In fact, some critics are raving about it. Why? This is a movie that many people wanted to love. Trust me, fans of old Hammer horror and modern sci-fi groundbreakers like The Matrix were foaming at the mouth for something like Brotherhood. But all that director Christophe Gans proves with his bold but uneven blending of styles is that sometimes, genre-mixing can be dangerous.